Jenny McPhee's Reviews > The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
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's review
Nov 05, 11

Gayle Lemmon, a former ABC News journalist, was in Kabul interviewing and researching her book during the same years as Barker. “Most stories about war and its aftermath,” Lemmon writes in the introduction, “inevitably focus on men: the soldiers, the returning veterans, the statesmen. I wanted to know what war was like for those who had been left behind: the women who managed to keep going even as their world fell apart. War reshapes women’s lives... Charged with their family’s survival, they invent ways to provide for their children and communities. But their stories are rarely told. We’re far more accustomed to -- and comfortable with -- seeing women portrayed as victims of war who deserve our sympathy rather than as resilient survivors who demand our respect.”

In Kabul, Lemmon found Kamila Sadiqi, a woman who started a dressmaking business while living under the Taliban. Lemmon’s narrative, which reads like a novel, is recounted from Kamila’s perspective. One of nine children and seven sisters, she was raised by parents who believed in education and careers for all their children. Kamila finished her teaching school degree as the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996, their Draconian laws against women equivalent to house arrest. Kamila’s father and brothers had to flee Kabul, leaving behind a house full of women forbidden to work. Money and food were scarce. Determined and resourceful, Kamila learned to sew and began a home-based dressmaking business that would eventually employ over 100 neighborhood women. Lemmon describes the both harrowing and mundane experiences of Kamila, her family, and an entire community of women, offering an exceptional perspective on life under the Taliban. By 2005, Kamila had moved on from dressmaking to construction. Invited to Washington, D.C., by Condoleezza Rice to address Congress, “she spoke about how business and education transformed women’s lives, and how this change had led to another extraordinary development: women in Afghanistan taking part in the political process.”

For my full column "Women Writing War" go to Bookslut:

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